For its authentic voice and sharp characterization, David Ackley’s story, “Confessions of an I.R.A. Terrorist,” remains one of my Fictionaut Faves. Not only is Ackley’s choice of the first-person vantage point a joy to read (since it so perfectly captures the monologue of a callused but well-meaning London cab driver), the story also astutely scrutinizes the illogical nature of prejudice and the way in which, over a decade, such intolerance and fear have so rapidly changed target.
Through lines like the following one, Ackley reveals the witty resignation of his narrator to the circumstances of his world. Here, the narrator Paddy O’Donovan is referring to a loudspeaker request to move an unattended suitcase from an Underground station: “That’s the Brit all over; polite to the last, please and pardon and thank you very much, even as they’re about to detonate your undies.” Or a line like this: “When we drive off I raise my middle finger over the roof in salute to my chums and from three cab windows in a line come a brown, black and tan middle finger sending it back to me.” This is so vividly real, so in character that I can’t imagine this man doesn’t actually exist somewhere in London, maybe drinking a pint and eating crisps from a bag inside his flat in Battersea. It’s a powerful piece of fiction that reveals a great many uncomfortable truths about human nature, both through the narrator’s actions and through all those surrounding him.
The protagonist of this story gets drafted in 1961 to serve in the US military. But, as he tells us, ‘the shooting war was canceled’, and he ends up being an asset in that other, non-shooting, war – the Cold War – as he gets assigned to a unit in blistering hot and mind-numbingly boring Oahu. Ackley uses his dry, deadpan humor to lend color to the seemingly pointless enumeration of anecdotes from the stupid and tedious life of a draftee in peacetime that follows. The anecdotes and loose remarks he threads together are so hilarious, in fact, that I didn’t care one bit that the story didn’t seem to be going anywhere. And certainly, had it not, I would have loved it still.
But it does go somewhere. The first time you feel this is when the storytelling slows down into the only real dialogue of the story. Near the end of his tour, the protagonist stands on the shore with his fellow draftees waiting for something that is supposed to happen at ‘nineteen hundred hours’. As it gets dark, they bicker about what exactly is about to happen. There is supposed to be some sort of big explosion. I didn’t know what Ackley was getting at until he had one of the guys say the event is ‘about nine hundred miles away’. In this great story, Ackley lulls you into a snickering half-doze with his stupid soldier jokes and then he – literally – drops the bomb on you.
Fictionaut Faves, a series in which Fictionaut members recommend stories on the site, is edited by Marcelle Heath, a fiction writer, freelance editor, and assistant editor for Luna Park. She lives in Portland, Oregon.